“Mind your language” was my immediate thought when I read a report saying that Accountants swear most at work. Here is the report. In the survey 100 firms from 14 sectors, counting the frequency of swearing. Accountants came top, with lawyers second. The charity sector came last. All I’ll say is that they have never heard the language backstage before a theatre show or an event!
Of course one of my first reactions was “Wow: I thought accountants were very well behaved!”
We use language, including swearing for a number of reasons. In the case of swearing, as with other language and behaviour it could be:
- Part of the culture of the company
- This is the norm set by the leader of the team or department
- A way of getting rid of tension when there are deadlines or stress in the office
- Banter or a ‘hen pecking’ order ritual, where the most swearing, for what ever reason, results the individual ‘bigging themselves up. Yep.
When is swearing appropriate and when is it not?
I believe there are a couple of words off limit, considered to be extremely vulgar and derogatory. If you are in a mixed team, these can be particularly offensive and shaming to the women. Also swearing and abuse that is racially directed, is unacceptable. Other situations could be:
- To clients
- In the office/virtual call to a client when someone is in the background audibly swearing
- To junior staff, belittling them in front of their colleagues
- As the only way of venting anger or frustration
- As part of vocabulary in confrontation
However we are all adults and there are occasions where we might swear when something goes wrong; we break something; we lose something! It is an immediate response to frustration. It can break tension, as well as being very funny, when someone who doesn’t swear much suddenly shouts “S***” in frustration! Are we minding our language?
As with anything, it is understanding the culture. If it is the norm that there is a lot of swearing when there is tension in a project, or an imminent deadline, everyone knows the deal. I mentioned at the beginning that having worked in the theatre and events, there is a very strict deadline, and tensions can be very high. Swearing and yelling at others is an accepted norm: even though to outsiders, it can look brutal. in 99% occasions, there is an apology or team building activity after the curtain goes up, to re-establish the relationship and to acknowledge that this was in the stressful moment, and not directed at you personally.
But there are cultures, where banter, of which swearing is part of this, is a way of establishing your macho status. Using swearing as a way of undermining or belittling others is BULLYING. There is a particular challenge if the leader is using this, since it normalises the behaviour within the organisation.
Does this impact on your personal brand?
Absolutely; the way you use language is part of your personal brand. If you use swear words very frequently, other people could question your professionalism; ability to work under pressure; even whether you can manage your anger. If you are that leader, or emerging leader who is constantly swearing, it could negatively impact your credibility. Not having control when you are stressed or angry, or concerns that your behaviour could be perceived as bullying could be warning signs for some organisations.
So what can you do as an employee?
On joining a firm or organisation where swearing is the norm, you have the choice, like any other aspect of the culture, to accept this or not. If you are uncomfortable with the level of swearing, you could start noting when it is used. If it is occasional, when everything gets stressful, it is one thing but if meetings are a battle ground where there is aggressive swearing and shouting down colleagues, it is unpleasant. HR could already be aware of any extreme behaviour. In the end, it is a case of you filtering what is acceptable and unacceptable to you and whether you want to work there.
If you would like to work with me, one course that could be of value is the Be Seen, Be Heard, Make an Impact Program